LAHORE: The current pause in the CIA-run American drone attacks is temporary and the predators will resume their deadly operations inside the Pakistani territory as soon as Islamabad restores Nato supplies.
Having carried out 71 deadly attacks inside the Pakistani territory between January 1 and November 17, 2011, the American drones seem to be in abeyance for a month now, as had been the case following the arrest of Raymond Davis. Only one predator strike took place in February 2011. But immediately after Raymond Davis was set free on March 16 the drone campaign was resumed and intensified.
The Pakistani authorities have repeatedly protested the US drone attacks targeting the alleged hideouts of al-Qaeda and Taliban-linked elements in the Pak-Afghan tribal belt, describing them as an infringement of its sovereignty which is causing civilian deaths also.
However, since the Obama administration is adamant to carry on with its deadly campaign, the US drones have conducted 71 strikes in 2011 (till December 14), showing a monthly average of over six attacks. Before the November 26 Nato strike, which prompted Pakistan to suspend the Nato supply lines and ask the Americans to vacate the Shamsi Airbase, the US drones had carried out four predator strikes inside the Pakistani territory.
These predator attacks were conducted on November 3, 2011 (killing three people in North Waziristan, suspected as being Haqqani militants), November 15 (killing seven militants in a compound in North Waziristan), November 16 (killing 16 people, two of whom were TTP militants, in South Waziristan), and November 17 (killing six suspected militants in North Waziristan). But in the aftermath of the unwarranted killing of 24 Pakistani soldiers in a Nato air strike and the subsequent retaliatory actions taken by Islamabad, including its decision to boycott the Bonn conference on Afghanistan, the American CIA has apparently put on hold its drone campaign.
In an apparent replay of the post-Raymond Davis arrest situation, when the drone campaign was suspended for a month, the Americans have conducted only one attack ever since the November 26 Nato air strike. According to American media, senior US officials fear that another drone attack at this crucial juncture would further damage the already fragile Pak-US relationship.
This is one of the longest pauses in the drone campaign since the ugly Raymond Davis episode. Yet well-informed diplomats in Islamabad say the drone campaign has only been suspended temporarily keeping in view the uncertain situation arising out of the Nato air strike.
According to them, senior US government officials consider drone attacks very successful and believe that the senior al-Qaeda leadership has literally been devastated by these strikes alone. Therefore, diplomats say, the drone attacks would be resumed to hunt down high-value al-Qaeda and Taliban targets as soon as the Pak-US ties are back to normal and the suspended NATO supply routes [from Pakistan to Afghanistan] are restored.
On the other hand, some well-placed officials in the Pakistani security establishment insist that it would be hard for the Americans to continue with their predator campaign with the same frequency, especially after they have been made to vacate Shamsi Airbase which had been of great help to the Americans in their drone campaign.
Diplomatic circles, however, say the eviction of the Americans from the Shamsi Airbase would have little impact on the American drone campaign. According to them, Shamsi base was more of maintenance and refuelling base for the American drones while most of the operations are being conducted from Forward Operating Base Chapman, also called Camp Chapman, in Afghanistan.
Pakistan has further announced shooting down any US drone in future that intrudes its airspace. As per the new defence policy, any object entering into the Pakistani airspace, including American drones, will be treated as hostile and shot down. Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani has already issued multiple directives since the Nato attack, which included orders to shoot down drones.
However, diplomatic circles argue that the US drone campaign was being conducted with the knowledge of the Pakistani military authorities and Islamabad’s decision to abandon this partnership would also affect Pakistan negatively.
The utility of the drone strikes in eliminating some of the most wanted terrorists had been admitted by GOC of 7th-Division, Major General Ghayur Mehmood in an official briefing titled “Myths and rumours about US predator strikes”. Speaking on the occasion on March 9, 2011, he said: Myths and rumours about American predator strikes and the casualty figures are many, but it’s a reality that many of those being killed in these strikes are hardcore elements, a sizeable number of them foreigners. Yes, there are a few civilian casualties in precision strikes, but a majority of those eliminated are al-Qaeda and Taliban-linked terrorists, including foreign elements. Between 2007 and 2011, 164 predator strikes had been carried out, killing over 964 terrorists. Of those killed, 793 were locals and 171 foreigners,” he added.